Field season safety: Part II

This is Part II of my Field Season Safety series; the first tackled road and driving safety.  [Editor’s note: this post was written and published online before yesterday’s tragedy in Oregon. Our thoughts are with the school and community in Umpqua.]

After yet another horrific school shooting yesterday, it’s high time to revisit gun culture and regulations in the US.* While that topic is far too big a concept for this blog post**, gun culture and safety does intersect with the academy, research, and fieldwork. There is terrible violence that has been carried out on college campuses with guns. But my post today focuses on how guns affect fieldwork safety for students, technicians, and other researchers***.

Guns could be pretty much anywhere you work

Gun laws in the US are fairly lax, including those for concealed handguns. This means, frankly, that almost anyone could be carrying a gun. Even if it doesn’t look like it. That may sound like some kind of scare tactic, but it’s not. 2013 research by the Pew Research Center found that 1/3 of US households claimed to own a gun – but that there are somewhere near 300 million guns owned by citizens in the US (so excluding law enforcement, etc). That’s nearly one gun per person in the country. So it’s important to know. Continue reading

Field season safety: a tale in two parts

Field season is coming up fast as the spring semester winds down, and even though I’m done with fieldwork now, it’s on my mind as my labmates gear up for theirs. Field season safety in particular is on my mind. There have been great recent articles and blogs about the dangers of sexual assault and unwanted contact while conducting fieldwork, especially in remote locations or isolated conditions. But I want to focus on two different, potentially overlooked and very American aspects of safety: cars and guns. Today I’m just talking about cars and road safety, and my next post will be about guns.

Working in the “field,” wherever that may be, often requires driving to field sites. For my own research, I was often driving for more hours in a given day than sampling at each site, due to the distance between field sites and frequency of sampling. While the sheer number of hours I’ve logged behind the wheel may be at the far end of the spectrum, driving for at least two hours per fieldwork day is common for others in my lab and department.  Since fieldwork is often collaborative, the driving is also often split between the research team. This means that undergraduate students, technicians, graduate students, and postdocs all rotate driving shifts throughout the day and across the field season. I never gave much thought to trusting my field crew with driving and our field vehicle until an incident a few years back. Two undergraduates who worked for me and I were in the car. One of the undergraduates was driving, and as he was pulling out from a field site, he took a weird angle going up a short hill (this was not on a paved road) and our vehicle rolled over. Fortunately, no one was injured and we were traveling so slowly (since we had just started the vehicle) that the car was not totaled. However, it was a deeply humbling and frankly terrifying experience for everyone involved. Continue reading